James Harder knows the benefits of hard work and perseverance. The 2019 Saginaw Valley State University mechanical engineering alumnus started college when he was just 14 years old. While being homeschooled, the Saginaw native took college classes for two years through the Great Lakes Bay Early College program at SVSU to get ahead and discover what he wanted to study.
After taking a third year to explore his options, Harder found his passion for engineering and decided to return to college full-time. However, since he was homeschooled, several universities denied him admission and scholarship opportunities.
SVSU welcomed him. The university recognized his value and sought him out to return as a student, even offering him the President’s Scholarship. The way that SVSU supported and empowered Harder made his decision simple, he said.
“I really appreciated the way they treated me as an individual person and not a number,” Harder said. “I came here with no reservations.”
When Harder returned to SVSU, he was initially overwhelmed with the transition he faced. His parents had moved out of the country for work, and he didn’t have much of a support system close by. SVSU staff and faculty soon stepped in to provide him with mentorship and guidance, and to ensure that he knew he wasn’t alone. Whenever he had questions or concerns, staff and faculty went out of their way to help him succeed, he said.
“I really valued that the engineering faculty were inviting students to come ask questions. They had open doors and were always inviting. When you went and asked them questions, they were glad you did,” Harder said.
Harder was determined to challenge himself and make the most of every opportunity he had to excel. When he decided he wanted to complete his degree in two and a half years, his supporters at SVSU rallied around him to help him achieve this difficult objective.
In addition to his accelerated course load, Harder also pushed himself to advance his hands-on experience with a multi-year co-op at Nexteer Automotive in nearby Buena Vista Township. In order to fit all his ambitions into his already full schedule, Harder would work from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Nexteer before coming back to SVSU to take his classes. The support he received from SVSU while managing this heavy workload was invaluable, he said.
“SVSU was there if I wanted to take opportunities like co-ops, taking extra classes, and finishing my degree quickly,” Harder said. “They were there to back me up when I wanted to challenge myself.”
Harder continued to push himself to defy limits and discovered his passion for startups while completing his senior design project. He collaborated with Nexteer to develop an electric power steering motor frame for a home gym. The opportunity to apply this innovative mentality and build something new led him to his next ambitious endeavor.
Harder decided to push himself further and study abroad for his final year. The staff at SVSU were dedicated to making this dream a reality, helping Harder earn a scholarship to study industrial design at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand.
His drive to study internationally and to apply himself to innovative initiatives earned him his current position— working at the cutting-edge start-up, Halter, in New Zealand.
Harder has worked at the company for three months, utilizing his mechanical and electrical engineering expertise to design innovative technology that aims to transform the farming industry. He is currently working with his team to develop a solar powered collar for cows that allows farmers to track and monitor their herd remotely.
Harder’s drive to overcome challenges and his determination to follow his passions led him to start his career in a part of the world he had always dreamed of visiting. Even half a world away, Harder still remains in contact with SVSU and the people that helped him along the way, and he is grateful for all of the unique opportunities he had at SVSU that helped get him to where he is.
“Any opportunity that you get to do something extra, no matter how difficult it seems, take those difficult opportunities,” Harder said. “Work hard and when you find what you love, put in everything you have and you will be rewarded.”
A Latina aviator whose career broke sound and gender barriers will visit Saginaw Valley State University next month.
As part of the university's celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Lt. Col. Olga Custodio will discuss her journey as the first female Hispanic United States Air Force pilot during a public presentation Wednesday, Oct. 9, at 6 p.m., in SVSU's Founders Hall. Admission is free and open to the public.
Her talk, “A Night with Olga Custodio,” also will detail her experience as the first Hispanic female commercial airline captain and examine the challenges she faced rising in ranks of a male-dominated profession.
Custodio‘s father served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army. Custodio's family traveled with him to different military camps around the world including Taiwan, Iran, Paraguay, and the U.S. They settled in Puerto Rico when Custodio was 15 years old. After graduating high school, she applied to the University of Puerto Rico's ROTC program but was denied because only men were admitted to the program.
In 1980, Custodio entered the Flight Screening Pilot Officer Training School and went on to graduate from the Undergraduate Pilot Training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas. She was the first Hispanic female to complete Air Force military pilot training in the U.S.
In 1988, American Airlines hired her as a commercial pilot, making her the first Latina to become a captain.
Custodio retired in 2003 to San Antonio. She now is an active charter member of the Women Military Aviators Association, the Women in Aviation International, as well as The Order of Daedalians. These organizations encourage youth from the San Antonio area to seek civilian and military aviation careers.
Her appearance at SVSU is sponsored by the university's Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, and Military Student Affairs, as well as the student organizations, Latino Awareness Association, and Female Empowerment and Multicultural Education.
Custodio's appearance is part of SVSU's annual Visiting Scholars and Artists speaker series. She will serve as a Dow Visiting Scholar during her visit.
For more information about the Visiting Scholars and Artists program, visit svsu.edu/publiclectures.
A Saginaw Valley State University educator’s determination to fight the opioid epidemic in rural Michigan will be the focus of a public presentation at the campus next month.
Kathleen Schachman’s talk, titled “High-Tech, High-Touch Solutions to the Opioid Crisis in Rural Michigan,” is scheduled Thursday, Oct. 3, at 4 p.m., in SVSU’s Founders Hall. Admission is free and open to the public.
Schachman, SVSU's Harvey Randall Wickes Endowed Chair of Nursing, will discuss how her work at the university — where she has helped merge health care delivery with educational opportunities for students and practicing nurses alike — has brought her face-to-face with one of the region’s deadliest health crises.
After a career spent as a primary care nurse practitioner across the U.S. and overseas, Schachman joined SVSU in 2014. The following year, she helped oversee SVSU’s partnership with the Bay County Health Department as the two organizations opened a nurse practitioner-led primary care health clinic in downtown Bay City now known as Bay Community Health Clinic. Staffing the site are university faculty as well as students from SVSU and other higher education institutions, from the disciplines of nursing, social work, occupational therapy, and pharmacy.
Almost immediately upon opening, the health clinic began tending to patients reporting dangerous addictions to opioids such as heroin, fentanyl and other powerful pain-killing drugs. Staff members have expanded their services after implementing telehealth components to the office, allowing them to treat and interact regularly with rural community residents sometimes deterred from seeking health care because of their distance from far-off treatment facilities. What the staff and Schachman discovered upon utilizing the telehealth approach was a largely untreated population also suffering from opioid use.
Schachman continues to add reinforcements to the struggle against the epidemic. Earlier this year, she helped SVSU secure a $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health's Health Resources and Services Administration. Over the course of four years, the funds will allow 100 nurse practitioners to enroll in SVSU’s psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner post-graduate certificate program. Once certified, those nurses will be trained to combat the opioid epidemic — and other mental health care conditions — in those rural communities.
Schachman’s presentation is part of SVSU's annual Visiting Scholars and Artists programs. Her appearance will serve as SVSU’s annual Thomas and Hilda Rush Distinguished Lecture.
For more information about the Visiting Scholars and Artists speaker series, visit www.svsu.edu/publiclectures.
“Unprecedented” because of the scale of collaboration, a multi-community theatre production of the hit musical comedy “Mamma Mia!” debuting Friday will feature a cast and crew heavy with Saginaw Valley State University connections.
The director (a faculty member), lead actor (an alumna) and stage manager (a current student) are among 17 people with SVSU ties participating in the weeks-long run of the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance-produced show.
Combining talent and resources from three regional theatres including Bay City Players, public performances are scheduled at The Midland Center for the Arts on Fridays through Sundays, Sept. 20-22 and Sept. 27-29. Free shows exclusively for area school students are planned at Pit & Balcony Theatre in Saginaw during the first week of October.
“It’s an ambitious project — a unique project — and one that this region is uniquely equipped to take on,” said "Mamma Mia!" director Tommy Wedge, an assistant professor of theatre at the university. “It really shows how SVSU is part of that theatre community too. I don’t think it’s overstating it that this is unprecedented.”
Nine alumni, five students and three educators from SVSU are involved as cast or crew members. Nine will act on stage while eight will perform behind-the-scenes work including directing, stage management as well as lighting design and engineering.
Among the participating alumni is Holly Booth, who portrays Donna, the lead role made popular by Meryl Streep in the 2008 film adaptation and its 2018 sequel. Off stage, Booth is a Midland County Educational Service Agency teacher who received a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education at SVSU in 1997 as well as learning disabilities and emotional impairment education endorsements from the university.
SVSU students also are critical to the success of “Mamma Mia!” For instance, Melanie Frasca, a theatre major from Waterford, will serve as stage manager. That’s no small task for a dynamic, fast-moving musical that features 38 actors as well as two different stages with two different stage designs for its Midland and Saginaw settings, Wedge said.
“In classes, we talk about how the university is part of the community,” he said. “It’s thrilling to see students experience that in real time. They see the class work we do on campus and then can turn around and be that stage manager in our show while working with alumni who graduated from our program.”
Seating remains available for the public performances at The Midland Center for the Arts. Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees begin at 3 p.m.
Tickets — which start at $25 — can be purchased at either of the three participating theatres’ box offices, or by calling (989) 631-5930.
"Mamma Mia!" debuted on a London stage in 1999 and moved to Broadway for a 14-year run beginning in 2001. The story starts on the eve of a young woman's wedding. Her desire to find her biological father leads to events that reunite her mother (Donna, played by Booth) with three ex-lovers from decades earlier. The plot unfolds to the upbeat sounds of ABBA music.
Watch Wedge discuss "Mamma Mia!" and its elaborate production in the following promotional video:
Saginaw Valley State University will host seven guest speakers as part of its annual fall Visiting Scholars and Artists series. The series will bring to campus a renowned Bollywood actress, the daughter of two prominent American literary figures, a CEO and a former president of MIT.
Speakers will discuss the transcendent nature of art, the breaking of historical barriers, the revolution of technological-biological science and new concepts in the learning process.
All events are free of charge and open to the public.
The following includes the complete lineup of fall Visiting Scholars and Artists speakers:
“The Beat Generation On and Off the Road”
Dow Visiting Scholar
Monday, Sept. 23, 4 p.m., in Founders Hall
Cathy Cassady Sylvia is a guest lecturer in California focusing on Beat literature and the former editor for the Stanford Medical School Cardiology Division newsletter. The daughter of famous Beat writers Carolyn and Neal Cassady, her lecture will focus on how female voices — including her mother's — shaped Beat Generation literature while also being silenced by it.
“From SVSU to Bollywood: A Personal Journey”
Dow Visiting Artist
Thursday, Sept. 26, 7 p.m., in Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts
SVSU alumna Meera Chopra, an Indian actress and model, has appeared in more than 20 films in various languages produced in her home country. Her most recent role was in "Section 375," a courtroom drama about India's anti-rape laws. Chopra's lecture will tackle the importance of addressing difficult topics through art.
“High-Tech, High-Touch Solutions to the Opioid Crisis in Rural Michigan”
Thomas and Hilda Rush Distinguished Lecture
Thursday, Oct. 3, 4 p.m., in Founders Hall
Kathleen Schachman is the H.R. Wickes Endowed Chair of Nursing at SVSU, serving in this role since 2014. She helped implement the university's psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program, which is serving its first cohort of 16 nurse practitioners. Her practice focuses on addictions and recovery support services. She will discuss how her work has intersected with the nation's opioid crisis.
“A Night with Olga Custodio”
Dow Visiting Scholar
Wednesday, Oct. 9, 6 p.m., in Founders Hall
Lieutenant Colonel Olga Custodio broke social and sound barriers as the first Latina to become a United States Air Force (USAF) military pilot and a commercial pilot for American Airlines. Now retired from both American Airlines and the USAF Reserves, Custodio is an active member of the Women Military Aviators Association, the Women in Aviation International and the Order of Daedalians.
"Welcome to the Age of Living Machines”
James E. O’Neill Memorial Lecture
Thursday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m., in Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts
Susan Hockfield is a professor of neuroscience and served as the first female president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2004-12. Her book, “The Age of Living Machines,” examines the technological-biological revolution known as “convergence.” In her presentation, Hockfield will provide a glimpse of the world to come.
"Engaging Learners in Liminal Spaces”
Dow Visiting Scholar
Thursday, Oct. 24, 7 p.m., in Gilbertson Hall's room GS 202
Elizabeth Wardle is a distinguished professor of written communication and director of the Howe Center for Writing Excellence at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She has published an award-winning collection of insights, “Naming What We Know,” and four editions of the co-authored textbook, “Writing about Writing.” In her talk, Wardle will discuss threshold concepts, student learning blocks and liminality in the learning process.
“The Perfect Storm”
Foundation Visiting Scholar
Monday, Nov. 4, 7 p.m., in Gilbertson Hall's Ott Auditorium
Horacio Sanchez is the president and CEO of Resiliency Inc., an agency leader in helping schools improve school climate, instruction and discipline. He addresses these topics in his book, "The Education Revolution." His research focuses on promoting student resiliency and applying brain science to improve school outcomes.
For more information about the Visiting Scholars and Artists speaker series, visit svsu.edu/publiclectures.
At Saginaw Valley State University later this month, the daughter of a famous writer will engage audiences in a presentation exploring the influence of female writers on the Beat Generation of the mid-20th century.
Cathy Cassady Sylvia, daughter of the late Beat writers Carolyn and Neal Cassady, will serve as the academic year’s first Dow Visiting Scholar appearance Monday, Sept. 23, at 4 p.m., in SVSU's Founders Hall.
The event is free and open to the public.
During her lecture, “The Beat Generation On and Off the Road,” Sylvia will share a collection of her mother’s unpublished stories, poems and paintings. She also will examine how female voices — including her mother’s — shaped Beat generation literature while simultaneously being silenced by it.
Sylvia’s mother was a confidant to beat writers Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who explored the effects of war on American culture. Kerouac referenced Sylvia’s birth in a 1951 draft of “On the Road,” a famous Beat novel considered by many as an American literary masterpiece.
Her parents were friends and sources of inspiration for Kerouac. Sylvia grew up immersed in the Beat literature tradition Kerouac and her parents helped shape. She will discuss these experiences in her lecture.
Sylvia previously served as Stanford Medical School Cardiology Division’s publications coordinator and as editor-in-chief of “The Cardiogram,” the school’s newsletter. Currently, she resides in California and provides local lectures at the San Fransisco Beat Museum and other locations.
Her appearance at SVSU is part of the university's annual Visiting Scholars and Artists speakers series program, which was established in part through an endowment from The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation to enrich our regional cultural and intellectual opportunities. Admission is free and open to the public for all events.
Fresh from the debut of one of her most anticipated films, a leading Bollywood actor this month will return to the campus she considered transformative in her development: Saginaw Valley State University.
Meera Chopra, an SVSU alumna who went on to star in more than 20 films produced in her native India, will serve as a Dow Visiting Artist at her alma mater Thursday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m. in SVSU's Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. The event is free and open to the public.
“I’m coming to Saginaw to talk to you, share some stories, talk about life and just have lots of fun,” Chopra said. “I’m really looking forward to it. Saginaw is something which made me what I am today.”
Chopra received a master’s degree in communication and multimedia from SVSU in 2003, just two years before she starred in the Tamil-language romantic drama, “Anbe Aaruyire.” Her breakout hit found success with fans of the southern India film industry. She went by the stage name Nila at the time.
She followed "Anbe Aaruyire" with appearances in a number of Indian films in other languages — Telugu and Kannada — such as her critically-acclaimed performance in the 2008 romantic drama, “Vaana.”
After moving to India’s film capital, Mumbai, Chopra’s rise as an artist continued with internationally-successful thrillers including “Gangs of Ghosts” and “1920: London”.
Chopra’s acting career has included dramatic portrayals. In “Section 375” — a Hindi-language movie set to debut this Friday, Sept. 13 — Chopra plays a woman whose sexual assault becomes the focus of a court case that examines the misuse of the nation’s anti-rape laws.
Chopra, a proponent of female empowerment and women’s rights, said she accepted the challenge of portraying a sexual assault survivor to raise awareness of the number of unreported rape cases in India and to highlight victims’ rights.
“Playing the character was very traumatic for me in the beginning, and once the filming was over, it took me some time to get out of it,” Chopra told The Times of India in August. “Shooting for this role really broke my heart to even imagine what real rape victims go through. I hope this movie gives strength to women to fight for justice.”
Chopra’s appearance at SVSU is part of the university's fall 2019 Visiting Scholars and Artists speaker series.
For more information on Chopra’s appearance and the speaker series, visit svsu.edu/publiclectures.
Watch the official trailer for "Section 375" here:
Committed to honoring Hispanic heritage, Saginaw Valley State University will host an event Sunday, Sept. 15, celebrating lowrider vehicles and the culture surrounding them.
SVSU’s kickoff to Hispanic Heritage Month — which spans Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 — will involve an outdoor event featuring lowrider vehicles on display, guest speakers including a state representative and a lowriding icon, as well as food and music. The event is free and open to the public.
Lowrider vehicles will be on display in the G3 parking lot at SVSU, outside of Gilbertson Hall in the northwest corner of campus, from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday.
A 1 p.m. public presentation will kick off near the outdoor display with remarks from Vanessa Guerra, the 95th District state House representative. Then both Roberto Garcia, SVSU’s director of Multicultural Student Affairs, and Debbie Sanchez, who appears as the subject of the documentary "Queen of the Lowriders," will talk about lowrider vehicles and their significance historically.
"Unfortunately, the lowriding community is plagued with negative stereotypes," Garcia said. "The general population is not aware of the history of lowriding and how it developed during the Chicano Civil Rights movement."
The goal of the Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff is to honor the contributions Hispanic-Americans have made to society while celebrating it through food, music, dance and education, he said.
The event will include singing and a DJ. A food truck will be parked on site, selling tacos, elephant ears and other goods.
In the event of poor weather, the presentation instead will be indoors in the Thompson Student Activities Room, located in SVSU's Student Center.
Two critically-acclaimed poets will share selections of their works during a reading at Saginaw Valley State University next month.
Tess Gallagher and Alice Derry will read from their respective works as part of SVSU's Voices In The Valley series on Thursday, Oct. 10, at 7 p.m. in Founders Hall. Admission is free and open to the public.
Gallagher is the author of 11 books of poetry, including “Is, Is Not,” “Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems,” “Dear Ghosts,” and “Moon Crossing Bridge.” The New York Times Book Review wrote that Gallagher "is an excellent writer who savors the elegance of simplicity and whose work resonates and lingers."
Gallagher studied under Theodore Roethke, acclaimed poet and Saginaw native. SVSU hosts the Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize, which is awarded every three years. Gallagher was also married to the famous short-story writer Raymond Carver. She spends time in County Sligo, Ireland, and in her hometown of Port Angeles, Washington.
Derry is the author of seven books of poetry, including “Hunger,” and “Translations of Rainer Rilke's New Poems.” Li-Young Lee, a fellow American poet, writes Derry’s "poems achieve a transpersonal significance and beauty. They ask us to surrender our simplistic ideas about race and prejudice, memory and forgetfulness, and begin to uncover a new paradigm for 'human.'"
Derry taught at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Washington, and coordinated the Foothills Writers Series.
The Voices in the Valley Reading Series brings in a wide variety of national poetry and fiction writers to SVSU each year to give public readings as well as visit English and creative writing classrooms.
Saginaw Valley State University has awarded the 2019-20 Stuart D. and Vernice M. Gross Award for Literature to author Anna Clark for her book, "The Poisoned City: Flint's Water Crisis and the American Urban Tragedy." The award is part of SVSU’s community-minded commitment to recognize exceptional writing within Michigan.
Clark will visit SVSU in the early months of 2020, when she will accept the award as well as visit classes on campus. She will also receive a $1,000 prize.
Clark graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in art history and creative writing and literature. She also graduated from Warren Wilson College's MFA Program for Writers and has published articles in The New York Times, Elle, and the Columbia Journalism Review.
Her book on the Flint water crisis has been described as "an exceptional work of journalism" by The San Francisco Chronicle and "a thorough, nuanced account . . . [that] weaves together history, science and rigorous reporting to tell Flint's story" by Science News magazine.
A website for "The Poisoned City" — including links for purchasing the book — is available at http://annaclark.net/the-poisoned-city.
Established by the late Stuart D. Gross and his wife, Vernice, the Gross Award for Literature is administered by SVSU. It is granted to published works in regional history or historical fiction/drama. Preference is given to Michigan subject matter or strong Michigan connections on the part of the author.
Winners are selected by a panel of judges from SVSU's faculty and staff. Judges this year were Matthew Buckley, research and collection development librarian; M. Patricia Cavanaugh, professor of English; Jules Gehrke, associate professor of history; Carlos Ramet, associate dean of the College of Arts & Behavioral Sciences; and Michelle Strasz, research & online course support librarian.
Employed for many years as a journalist with The Saginaw News, Gross joined the SVSU staff in the school's early years and served in a variety of public affairs roles. He was recognized as a regional historian and published several books. Among his writings are, "Saginaw: A History of the Land and City," "When Timber was King," and "Where There is a Will." Following his retirement from SVSU, Gross wrote and produced a play, "Let's Have Lunch Sometime." He died in 1996; Mrs. Gross, in 2001.